We were glad to reach Tbilisi having forfeited one night and a day’s tour with a driver. We download the Maxim taxi app so that we could avoid the thieves of taxi drivers at the airport who like to dupe the foreigners out of their money. We paid 15Lari instead of 50Lari.

We made the most of our day after leaving the bags in our nice new airbnb apartment.

We took the metro to the city and walked a long way up a hill before taking the very steep funicular stopping midway to see the church built into the side of the hill.
There was an enormous and opulent function/restaurant at the top and the views of the city were spectacular. We returned to the lower funicular station and walked down another hill passing run down but interesting old houses from pre soviet and soviet times. The courtyards of many of the communal houses were dotted with banana and other trees.
We ate our first Georgian dishes at a large restaurant/pub called ‘Bernard’ and we tried several dishes with local cheese and tasty Georgian bread. The cheap local wine was also very good. Prices were very reasonable for food and the local fruit and vegetables especially the tomatoes were delicious. Nicholas our driver the next day told us proudly that Georgia grows everything except for pineapples and bananas which are imported.
We caught the metro back to near our apartment and fell into bed, not having slept more than 4hours the previous night.

We had hired a driver the next day to take us the 2 1/2hours to David Gareja Monastery south east of Tbilisi. The drivers were erratic, impatient, beeping their horns incessantly and all in a hurry. The Georgians seem to operate at a very slow pace but once in a car that changes dramatically. Nicholas our driver was a fountain of information about Georgia in general and the drive passed quickly. The scenery along the way was of undulating steppes developing into stark mountainous areas with a beautiful variety of colours. The monastery and it’s position was amazing and we spotted a couple of monks perched amongst the caves high up on the mountain. On the other side of the hill was Azerbaijan.
We stopped at a local outdoor restaurant for a delicious lunch of trout, a spinach dish, eggplant with walnuts,
potatoes with onions and the tasty Georgian bread which seems to accompany every meal. Nicholas proved to be a
very genuine and pleasant person. All the people we met in the first couple of days in Tbilisi were friendly and helpful.

The Georgian people are very tolerant of other religions and races and there are synagogs, churches shared by Catholics, Baptists and Copts, one mosque and many Christian Orthodox churches. The largest one on a hill overlooking Tbilisi is known as the ‘oil and gas church’ because the Oligarch that built it their billionaire president who just wanted to outdo the previous ruler. Two large tubular buildings were close to completion as concert halls by the previous incumbent when he lost office to the Oligarch. Not wanting to continue with his predecessor’s work the Oligarch halted contruction and it has been lying idle for seven years. He also refused to live in the presidential palace and built a ‘James Bond’type of glass mansion in which he lives high on another hill.

We opted for a free walking tour of Tbilisi (Tbilisi Hack) and Mo an Iranian who had lived there for 18months was an excellent guide and gave us an interesting insight into Georgians and life in general in Tbilisi. We thoroughly enjoyed the 4 1/2 hours we spent walking up and around the city and visiting the various churches, fort, statue of Mother Georgia and also visiting the oldest bakery from the 1500’s where the bread is baked in a large round oven like a Tandoor. They had a variety of long Turkish type rolls filled with either cottage cheese, mushroom or cheese. Very tasty.
The very strange looking knobbly colourful sticks we saw everywhere were a sweet made from flour, honey and various nuts and spices and naturally coloured. Our guide suggested not to buy any that were hanging up as they would be covered in dust.
Nearly every corner has hole in the wall bakery which are not signposted. The aroma of freshly baked bread just leads you to the bakery.
Nicholas gave us the recommendation of a local restaurant which was in a building called Gallery Italia but the food was definately Georgian and very tasty. We caught the metro back to ‘Station Square’ and retrieved our bags from the storage facility which was an old container and caught the overnight train to Baku leaving at 2035. It was again a long night with long stops at both the Georgian and Azerbaijani border controls. Nobody operated at a fast pace so it was 0145 before we got going to Baku again. The border guards who photographed us took two hours longer than normal making us two hours late into Baku. Their machine didn’t like our Australian passports and they wouldn’t swipe so everything had to be entered manually. We were going to return to Tbilisi for a few weeks after our 10days in Azerbaijan.

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